English law states that all children have a right to an education, yet in practise there are various groups of young people who cannot exercise this right, these individuals are known as children missing education. The National Children’s Bureau, with funding from Lankelly Chase, set about putting together a report that examined the cause of the issues and what could be done to help.
In 2014 NCB undertook research to find numbers of children who were missing an education, our freedom of information request found across England over 14,800 children fell into this category. A later request in 2016 by the BBC found these numbers had more than doubled to over 33,000. Children missing education are known to be at greater risk of failing academically and of being abused or neglected. NCB wanted to raise awareness of this growing plight amongst decision makers, professionals and carers, and develop a greater understanding of the causes to inform policy and practise.
NCB’s policy team carried out in-depth interviews with 17 carers and 17 children from three local authorities around the England. The aim was to establish the route they took to get into that situation and how they felt either during or after the time they missed out on an education. Research also spoke to parents and carers to uncover the impact on the wider family.
In addition NCB’s policy team conducted focus groups with number of local authorities. Each group consisted of staff from various departments including safeguarding, youth offending, pupil referral units and schools. They were asked about experiences and pathways into children missing education, working practices and the barriers they faced and what support was out there to prevent these issues occurring.
What we learned
There are often complex and interconnected reasons why children are missing education. Factors related to the child themselves, their family and home, school and wider systems and society all play a part.
Missing education can have far reaching consequences on the individual. Our research found they are often left feeling lonely and bored. In the case of older children it might lead to them falling in with the ‘wrong crowd’ and becoming at risk of offending or child sexual exploitation. It can also have an impact on their futures and employability.
Consequences were also felt by parents and carers, our interviews discovered many parents were forced to give up their jobs, leading to additional financial burdens as well as the emotional and mental health impacts they felt.
Local authorities faced numerous concerns when dealing with children missing education, from tracking a child they believe to be in that situation to what actually defines a child missing education. Our research identified there could be many thousands more children missing out on an education. Local authorities will record a child as missing education if they do not appear on a school roll or are not receiving education elsewhere. However figures do not include those children who are on a school roll but not being taught due to illegal exclusions, part-time timetables or authorised and unauthorised absence from school due to sickness or something else.
So what’s next?
The report takes what we have learnt and makes a number of recommendations to address the complex issues around children missing from education. These are being passed on to policy makers and local authorities to improve future practices.